Sunday, August 5, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Churchill Grandchildren -- They Make Their Marks But Can't Escape His Shadow


LONDON - Hurrying back to London after a weekend in the country, Winston Churchill ignored the pleas of his grandchildren.

``Don't go, Grandpa,'' begged Edwina Sandys and young Winston Churchill, who were staying at Chequers, the prime minister's official country residence.

It was July 1944, a month after the D-day invasion, the early days of the German V-1 ``buzz bomb'' assault on London.

As the car drew away, his secretary, Marion Spicer, recorded in his diary that the war and the youngsters both weighed on Churchill's mind.

``What a world,'' the prime minister said, ``to bring children into!''

The world has proven hospitable for the 10 grandchildren of Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (1874-1965). It's a place where they can make their marks but they can't escape his long shadow.

Three have made it into ``Who's Who,'' including two who have followed their grandfather and their fathers into Parliament.

Winston S. Churchill and Nicholas Soames are Conservative Party back-benchers - legislative spear carriers - in the House of Commons where 50 years ago their grandfather summoned Britain to a sacrifice of ``blood, toil, tears and sweat.''

In a studio on Long Island, Edwina Sandys is hacking away at pieces of the Berlin Wall to create a sculpture for Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., where Churchill warned the West in 1946 that ``an iron curtain has descended across the continent.''

The third generation also includes businessmen, a barrister and a society journalist. None of them, as yet, threatens to match grandfather's eminence as a statesman, orator, historian and artist.

``I don't have his ability, and I know it,'' says Soames, who was elected to the House of Commons in 1983. ``I'm 42. When he was that age, he had already been chancellor of the exchequer. I haven't yet gotten off the back benches.''

Soames, a pal of Prince Charles, has his grandfather's round face and monumental physique - ``portly, flamboyant, fun,'' in the words of Matthew Parris, political satirist for The Times.

The grandfather, too, spent long years as just another member of Parliament between 1929 and 1940 - a lonely voice urging Britain to face up to the monstrousness of Adolf Hitler.

``People glibly talk of his finest hour, and most people would have in mind 1940 and the ensuing wartime years,'' says the younger Winston Churchill.

``. . . I think the real trial for him had been the 1930s, when he could count his political friends on the fingers of one hand, when he was being reviled in the press, on the radio, in Parliament.''

The grandson is not friendless but has been a back-bench exile since 1978 when he defied Conservative Party head Margaret Thatcher, then the opposition leader, by voting to end sanctions against the white-minority government of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

``I wouldn't see it as wilderness years because unlike my grandfather I'm actually supportive of the government that's in power, my own party. He was not,'' Churchill said recently.

Churchill, 49, has made his way quietly and surely, unlike his combative father, Randolph, the only son among the five children of Winston and Clementine Churchill. Randolph Churchill, who died in 1968, was elected to the House of Commons only because he once ran unopposed, and he was once dismissed by a newspaper columnist as ``the pale satellite of another's fame.''

His sister, Diana Churchill, who committed suicide in 1965, had three children by her marriage to the late Duncan Sandys (pronounced ``sands'') - Julian Sandys, a barrister; Celia Sandys Perkins, an interior decorator who lives in Devon; and Edwina, who lives in New York with her husband, Richard Kaplan.

Another sister, Mary Churchill, now Lady Soames and the only surviving child of Sir Winston, had five children by her marriage to the late Christopher Soames - Nicholas; Emma Soames, former editor of ``The Tatler''; Charlotte, now Lady Peel by virtue of her marriage to Earl Peel; Jeremy Soames, an executive with the banking house of N.M. Rothschild; and Rupert Soames, chairman of GPTelecom in Paris.

Sir Winston's actress-daughter, Sarah, died in 1983, leaving no survivors. A fifth child, Marigold, died in childhood.

The stresses reflected in the lives of Churchill's children have been less severe for the grandchildren, says Emma Soames.

``The fact that we're a generation on does make it a lot easier,'' she says.

Her brother says family connections are resented by a newer breed of Tory, cut in the mold of Margaret Thatcher, the grocer's daughter. ``Contrary to what Americans think,'' Soames says, ``this isn't a country that is run as a hereditary democracy.''

Born at Chequers, Young Winston Churchill has most closely followed his grandfather's footsteps. Both toured Africa and wrote books about it. Both were war correspondents, the grandfather in the Boer War and the grandson in Vietnam and the Middle East. Sir Winston entered Parliament at age 26, his grandson at 30.

Emma Soames also took up journalism and at one time had Randolph Churchill's old job of writing a column for the Evening Standard. She giggles, proudly, about being the first woman journalist labeled a ``hackette'' by Private Eye, London's bitingly satirical magazine.

Eighteen months ago she was appointed editor of Tatler magazine. From its bare and utilitarian offices, she chronicled the world of ``power, money, glamour, style, wit, success. You know - up!''

Though born into that world, she says that being Winston Churchill's grandchild counts for little in today's equation of power and success.

``I'm sure it opened a few doors,'' she said. ``But the doors get slammed in your face again if you don't deliver the goods. . . .''

Two weeks after this interview, Soames was fired, and the Conde Nast firm appointed a new editor to attempt to revive the magazine's flagging circulation.

As a child, Soames lived at Chartwell Farm, near Churchill's personal country home, Chartwell, in the woodlands of Kent, and often saw her grandfather.

``I suppose I must have been 4 or 5, so it's a bit hazy. But I remember him using words that I didn't understand, and I used to go to my nanny and say, `What does inappropriate mean?' ''

Edwina Sandys says the Berlin Wall work is her first directly inspired by her grandfather.

``It's silly to be too purist about it,'' she said in a telephone interview. ``But he was such a famous man. You don't want always to do something connected with him; you want your own thing.''

However, she and her sister prepared an exhibition of her grandfather's watercolors in Washington in 1983, a tribute to happy days at Churchill's country home.

``He loved color, he loved landscape and was very, very sensitive. Some of the landscapes he did show enormous sensitivity to light, light on trees and light on water and clouds, which perhaps some people wouldn't realize he had,'' she said.

Sandys got a taste of fame from ``Christa,'' a statue of a crucified woman that was condemned by an Episcopal bishop when it was displayed in 1984 at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

``People write to me all the time about Christa, and they want photographs and posters and things,'' she said. The image is now on loan in California.

``She's sort of out on her own, you know, like a child that's grown up,'' said Sandys, who has two grown sons. ``She goes out and gets invited to places.''

Young Winston Churchill says he was influenced a lot by his father and his grandfather, ``particularly in the causes I've inherited.''

He campaigned for a memorial to victims of the Katyn Forest massacre in Poland, carried out by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and co-founded Radio Free Kabul on behalf of the mujaheddin fighting the Communist government and the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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